Beyond Belfast: Northern Ireland on a Budget

by  Steve Larese | Jan 23, 2015
Ashford Castle, Ireland
Ashford Castle, Ireland / hipokrat/iStock

Northern Ireland teems with castles, ancient sites, and natural beauty. After you’ve explored Belfast, set off to see the stunning landscape and history of the rest of this beautiful land. Here are just a few Northern Ireland attractions that are as inexpensive as they are impressive.

History & Culture
Of all of Northern Ireland’s many treasures, the Giant’s Causeway is perhaps its most beloved. This geologic site consists of 60 million-year-old basalt columns that cooled into perfectly hexagonal patterns. And music fans will recognize the site from Led Zeppelin’s 1973 "Houses of the Holy" cover. Geology aside, Irish mythology says that the natural columns are actually the remains of a bridge built by folklore hero Finn McCool to reach a rival giant in Scotland. The UNESCO also site sports a state-of-the-art welcome center that opened in 2012 to get you situated. £8.50 (about $12.89).

The Dark Hedges in County Ballymoney is a Northern Ireland must-visit that has only gained in popularity after being featured in an episode of Game of Thrones. These beech trees, planted two centuries ago along Bregagh Road as a dramatic entry to Gracehill House, are free to visit -- though the area is said to be haunted.

One of Northern Ireland’s most impressive castle ruins, Dunluce Castle, sits precariously on an outcrop above the crashing surf below in County Antrim. It dates back to the 1600s, and today visitors enter the ruins via a bridge. £5.

For the past 350 years, a rope bridge at Carrick-A-Rede in County Antrim has been used to connect the mainland to a small island where fishermen catch migrating salmon. The bridge is 90 feet above the water and offers an exciting way to see this beautiful section of the coast. £5.90 per adult, £3 per child.

The 51-kilometer (nearly 32-mile) Causeway Coast Way Walking Trail takes two to three days to complete, affording stays in several towns and hours in the emerald Irish countryside. It travels along the northern coast between Ballycastle and Portstewart, and is part of the 1,000-mile Ulster Way trail system that roughly traces the border of Northern Ireland.

Bushmill’s Distillery offers a fascinating tour of where this iconic Irish whiskey has been made since 1784. Tours take 40 minutes and end with a sample. This is the only place to purchase the Bushmill’s 12 Year Distillery Reserve Single Malt, and you can even have a bottle personalized. £7.50.

Steve Larese
Steve Larese

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